Nishio Matcha Tea Requests Removal of GI Protection to Try to Boost Sales

Agriculture Ministry agrees to Nishio Matcha’s request to remove its geographical indication protection to allow production flexibility

Former GI matcha tea
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Japan’s agriculture ministry has allowed the removal of Aichi Prefecture’s Nishio Matcha tea from its list of geographically protected local specialty brand names, to give its producers the chance to experiment with more efficient growing methods.

By removing the geographical indication (GI) protection, the green tea producers of Nishio and Anjo will be able to move away from costly traditional cultivation methods.

The Nishio Tea Cooperative Association asked the ministry to cancel the GI protection so they can reduce their production costs thus making Nishio Matcha more affordable for consumers.

A move from traditional methods would let them sell their tea for around ¥1,000 per kilogram, which is less than one third of what it currently costs. The producers believe that recent sales of the tea have been sluggish due to the high prices.

A move from traditional methods would let them sell their tea for around ¥1,000 per kilogram, which is less than one third of what it currently costs

Geographical Indication: a means of safeguarding producers’ rights

Geographical indication was introduced by the ministry to protect specific regional food products. The products with GI status are of high quality and repute, having unique farming methods and distinctive characteristics, including climate and soil conditions.

The GI system in Japan came into effect in June 2015, and according to the ministry, about 90 brands, including Kobe beef, Japanese sake and Yubari melons, carry the GI designation. Matcha tea is the first product to request removal from the list since the system was created.

The agriculture ministry’s believed that geographical protection would boost brand awareness of Made In Japan products abroad while also protecting them from counterfeit products.

Value in Japanese produce

Some varieties of Japan’s specialty produce do very well on the open market without the GI tag. A single melon in Japan has been known to sell for more than ¥15,000, a bunch of grapes for ¥8,000, and premium white strawberries for ¥3,000 each.

In contrast to Nishio tea producers’ experience, the reason some Japanese produce can sell at premium prices is mainly due to the amount of labour that goes into its production.

For example, Shizuoka’s Crown melons are tended by hand for 100 days, with only a single fruit allowed to grow on each vine to absorb all the nutrients. Each fruit is massaged with gloved hands to encourage even growth and sweetness, and on sunny days they’re even fitted with caps to stop them getting sunburnt.

Then, when they are harvested they’re graded on their shape and skin quality so perfectly-round melons that are free from blemishes fetch the highest prices.

What do you think the government’s geographical indication initiative? Is it an effective way to protect or boost local brands? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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Written by Catherine McGuinness

Writer and journalist with a love for all things Japan.

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